With their seventh straight win the Kitchener Rangers are now in sole ownership of first place overall in the Ontario Hockey League, but it came at a cost.
Brandon Robinson had a goal and two assists and Luke Opilka needed just 18 saves to lead the Rangers to a 4-3 victory over the visiting Saginaw Spirit in front of 6,445 fans at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex on Sunday afternoon.
Ryan MacInnis also made an impact on the scoresheet for the Rangers (9-0-3-0), registering a goal and an assist in the win and extending his point-streak to six games while at a two-point-per-game pace (5G, 7A=12Pts). Robinson also extended his goal scoring streak to five games, potting at least a goal in each and every game he’s played this season since his return.
One streak that came to an end on Sunday was the league-best point streak of left winger Adam Mascherin. The Rangers leading scorer collided with Spirit goaltender David Ovsjannikov and fell awkwardly just seconds into the game. Ovsjannikov laid on the ice in discomfort for several minutes, while Mascherin left the ice and made his way to the dressing room and did not return.
Rangers head coach Mike Van Ryn said the loss of Mascherin to his lineup is obviously unfavorable, but he liked the way his group responded with yet more unforeseen adversity.
“We were already short on forwards and dressed just eleven guys up front today, so to lose [Mascherin] on top of that was tough,” Van Ryn said. “But guys stepped up, and I liked what I saw from them. Dylan Di Perna did a wonderful job for us stepping up and playing up front.
“It was a real group effort today. Guys were bearing down and we found a way to win. It’s a huge team-building win for us to do it with a short bench like that.”
When asked if he knew the extent of the injury to Mascherin, or the time he expected to be without the left winger, Van Ryn said there were still a lot of questions that needed to be answered before they’d know for sure.
“Obviously we hope it’s not going to be something that keeps him out too long. The guy had an 11-game point streak going, and you hate to see it come to an end from playing around 20 seconds.
“We’ll regroup, get him back into the lineup when we can, and the plan will be to pick up where we left off with him in there.”
Gustaf Franzen was one of the other Rangers goal scorers on the afternoon, and has produced points in three of his last four outings.
“Me and Llewey [Llewellyn] work well together out there,” Franzen said post-game on 570 News. “We talk to each other out there, and we seem to be pretty similar in what we want to do with the puck. That’s a huge factor to winning. For us being able to win all these games in a row is huge, too. These are all points we can bank for the end of the season.
“Right now we’re first in the league but we’re not satisfied with just that. We’re going to keep pushing and keep working and each do our best to contribute as a team.”
Franzen got the Rangers on the board early with his second goal of the season from Dmitrii Sergeev and Frank Hora just 2:08 into the game. It was the eleventh time in 12 games this season the Rangers opened the game’s scoring.
With the Spirit on the power play after the Rangers were penalized for delay of game, Matthew Kreis evened the score 1-1 from Dylan Sadowy and Markus Niemelainen at 16:28. Shots were 4-1 Kitchener when the Rangers took a 1-0 lead, but wound up 11-8 Spirit after 20 minutes of play.
The Rangers would ultimately take charge in the second period, getting a go-ahead goal from the streaking Robinson to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 13:35 with Hora picking up the lone assist, his second point of the afternoon.
Just over two minutes later MacInnis finished off a pretty feed from Robinson to put the Rangers up 3-1 at 15:36. Robinson and Franzen picked up the helpers on the final goal of the frame.
Shots were convincingly in Kitchener’s favour in the middle period as they outshot the visitors 20-5, and led 28-16 through 40 minutes.
It was Kreis who opened the third period scoring to cut the Rangers lead to 3-2 at 8:37 from Sadowy and Jesse Barwell, but the Rangers responded, restoring their two-goal lead at 10:19 on a pretty and patient Darby Llewellyn stickhandling play which resulted in a backhand goal. Robinson picked up his second assist and third point of the day on the 4-2 goal, with MacInnis picking up the second helper.
With Ovsjannikov pulled, the Spirit once again brought themselves to within one on a goal by Connor Brown with 45 seconds left on the clock assisted by Sadowy and Niemelainen, but it was as close as they’d come as the Rangers held on for the 4-3 win.
Rangers starting goaltender Luke Opilka (6-0-2-0) earned yet another win, stopping 20 of 23 shots strewn his way. Ovsjannikov (0-2-0-0) suffered the loss in goal for the Spirit, allowing four goals on a barrage of 37 shots by the Rangers. Saginaw now sees their record fall to 4-6-1-1 on the season.
The Spirit were 1-for-4 with the man advantage, while the Rangers power play was stymied in the three opportunities it saw.
Before the game, Rangers defenceman Elijah Roberts was acknowledged for being named the first Robin’s Goldsmithing Academic Achievement Award winner of the season.
MacInnis, Hora, and Brian Brosnan each wore ‘A’s and skated as assistant captains for the game.
Kreis (3), Robinson (2) and MacInnis (1) were chosen as the Three Stars of the game.
Next up for the Rangers they meet the Peterborough Petes for the second time in six days on Thursday, October 29th to complete their season series. Puck drop is 7:05pm from the Peterborough Memorial Centre.
The next home game is Friday night, October 30th at 7:30pm when the North Bay Battalion make their one and only visit to the Aud this season. Fans are encouraged to dress up in their best Halloween costumes for the game.
Tickets for the Rangers next home game are available online at kitchenerrangers.com, by calling Centre in the Square, or through The Aud Box Office.